Skip Navigation

The Foundry at the Heart of a Community: Waupaca County

A University of Wisconsin–Madison education can be a powerful thing. For Michael Nikolai ’92, MS’94, it was the inroad into a company that he now heads as CEO.

Michael Nikolai

Nikolai was considering a job with Waupaca Foundry after graduation when one of his UW–Madison professors, Carl Loper, approached him about a grant for a research project with the Iron and Steel Institute that would be conducted at the foundry. Nikolai jumped on the opportunity.

“This gave me a two-year job interview with Waupaca Foundry and the chance to earn my master’s,” he says. “I did well enough for them to offer me a job upon completion.”

The University of Wisconsin–Madison’s College of Engineering did a good job preparing Nikolai for his work at the foundry. “The work in the campus metal-casting laboratory and my interaction with key professors gave me skills that I immediately applied to real-world conditions,” he says.

Those skills, along with his business savvy and leadership skills, helped him earn his way to the top leadership position at Waupaca Foundry. During his tenure there, the company has had a powerful impact on Wisconsin and the immediate community. The foundry employs more than 1,300 Waupaca County residents, contributing $82.5 million in wages and an additional $307 million to the county’s economy. Waupaca Foundry is responsible for 10.4 percent of total income and 9.9 percent of total sales in Waupaca County.

A master’s degree in a STEM field from UW–Madison gives you a head start in a career that will benefit you for a lifetime.

Nikolai and his company understand their importance to the community, and they back this up with direct donations. In 2015 alone, the company gave $180,000 to local non-profits, civic organizations, and fire, rescue, and EMS departments. Other contributions include donations of spent sand to local building projects and gifts of machinery and equipment to public schools.

In addition to $100,000 in seed money that Waupaca Foundry donated to help construct the Fox Valley Technical College campus in Waupaca, the foundry also donated mobile training units designed by company engineers and valued at $250,000.

It’s an incredible success story for a Wisconsin company working in a highly competitive field. And Nikolai’s part in the story began with a master’s degree research project. He has a word of advice for anyone considering getting a master’s in engineering:

“Get it done,” he says. “A master’s degree in a STEM field from UW–Madison gives you a head start in a career that will benefit you for a lifetime.”

Featured News and Stories

This recipe was taken from Seasoning Secrets and Favorite Recipes of Carson Gulley.